The untold truth of Tory Belleci from Mythbusters

Salvatore Paul "Tory" Belleci burst on the entertainment scene as the gung-ho daredevil member of the MythBusters Build Team. Along with his co-hosts Kari Byron and Grant Imahara, he gained fame field-testing the scientific veracity of all sorts of myths and legends until 2014, when the laws of the entertainment industry took their toll and, as Business Insider puts it, the members of Build Team were given their "walking papers." 

Still, while you might mainly know Belleci from MythBusters, it doesn't mean that's all he's been up to. In fact, he was doing awesome stuff well before you knew his face, and he's been up to all sorts of shenanigans since he disappeared from the myth-busting scene. On top of that, he's led a truly interesting life ever since his childhood — a life that's largely taken place away from the brightest limelight. It's high time his tale be told, so this is the untold story of Tory Belleci from MythBusters.

Tory Belleci's Star Wars connection

As befits a man primarily known for building (and blowing up) cool things, Tory Belleci worked with special effects for quite a while before he became a TV star. One of his most high-profile projects was none other than the god-king of all geek franchises, Star Wars. Belleci's online portfolio shows many pictures of the future MythBuster (and his varying styles of facial hair) building models of the massive Federation battleship and infamous podracer for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

What's more, he wasn't the only future MythBuster making magic with Industrial Light & Magic at the time. On his website Tested, Belleci's colleague Adam Savage has talked about their work together on a particularly difficult set piece, Tipoca City from Attack of the Clones. (It's the place Obi-Wan Kenobi and Jango Fett fought each other, in case you don't remember). Savage has a picture of the two building a Tipoca City model together, though he's revealed that the image is actually something of a fabrication. While the two were involved in making the model, the actual picture is what Savage calls a "model shop reach." In other words, it's a photo op where the two pretended to be working on the already-finished models when their work had actually ended two weeks before. Show business!  

Tory Belleci found success at Gumball 3000

In 2014, Tory Belleci took part in one of the strangest, most Mad Libs moments of his career. According to The Verge, he not only took part in the famed Gumball 3000, a highly exclusive and elaborate 3,000-mile street rally — he did it with Canadian DJ Deadmau5, of all people. Belleci and Deadmau5 drove a "Purrari", a custom Ferrari 458 Italia with a paint job themed after the Nyan Cat meme, complete with speakers that blared its theme song. In fact, Belleci and Deadmau5 say they spent the race listening to the song on repeat.  

While all of this might seem like a strange celebrity stunt — after all, this was the same year Deadmau5 had a new album out, and Belleci and the rest of the Build Team had lost their MythBusters jobs — the two seemed to legitimately enjoy their time on the road. They did suffer the occasional setback, like when the French police banned Deadmau5 from driving in the country, and Belleci had to take the wheel until they reached Spain. Nevertheless, they did well enough on the week-long supercar race that when they reached the goal in Ibiza, they were awarded the biggest award of the entire race: the Spirit of Gumball prize, which is given to the team that was most positive, had the best time, and partied the hardest. 

Belleci's trouble with the law

Tory Belleci is famous for building cool stuff and blowing things up, but according to The Monterey County Herald, his life could've taken a drastically different direction if it wasn't for one sympathetic police officer. When Belleci was young, he became fascinated with explosives, and by the time he was 19, he was teaching himself to build pipe bombs. This almost landed him in serious trouble when he detonated one near his parents' home in Seaside, California, and the explosion naturally drew the attention of authorities. 

The officer called to the scene was Watch Commander Michael Klein, who soon discovered that Belleci was responsible. However, Klein found out that the young man's antics were driven by a deep fascination in special effects, so instead of arresting young Belleci, he made some rounds, talking to the kid's neighbors, teachers, parents and, of course, young Tory himself. Klein sat down with the Belleci family, and talked with them about the best ways to harness the boy's interests in ways that didn't lead to people calling 911. Belleci learned his lesson, and says that Klein's understanding and direction came at an extremely important time. As Belleci explained, "He was very instrumental in my life, because had I been arrested, I'm sure my life would have gone in another direction completely."

Tory Belleci and Flying Anvils

It's hard to imagine a show with a more inherently and willingly absurd premise than MythBusters, which revolved around absurd myths and urban legends. However, leave it to Tory Belleci to find a way to top that. As Wired tells us, in 2011, the myth-busting rascal found himself hosting a show called Flying Anvils, where the entire premise was to see how high the contestants could send an anvil flying with controlled black powder explosions. What's more, this wasn't just some strange show a drug-fueled TV executive had slapped together as a vehicle to test out Belleci's solo star power. He was actually just a celebrity host for the National Anvil Shooting Championship, an actual redneck sport that Belleci says dates back 200 years. 

If you think that blasting 100-pound anvils 200 feet in the air for sport sounds amazingly dangerous, Belleci certainly agrees with you. Throughout his Wired interview about the show, the man you'd expect to be somewhat jaded after personally testing countless weird myths comes off as totally impressed and intrigued by the weirdness of it all and the dedication of the contestants. According to Belleci, one guy actually (though not particularly shockingly) got injured during the rounds, and then called from the hospital, urging everyone to finish the competition. After the show ended, Belleci said it was "one of the craziest events" that he'd ever witnessed … and that he couldn't wait to go back next year.

He's worked on tons of your favorite franchises

You may be aware that before his tenure as a MythBuster, Tory Belleci worked many years as a successful special effects guy. However, you might not realize just how sought-after he was. In fact, judging by his bio and work portfolio, Belleci was one of the absolute best in his field due to his almost decade-long work at Industrial Light & Magic, and he's worked behind the scenes of some of the most beloved franchises out there. 

For example, he's worked on the first two episodes of the Star Wars prequel series. He's built models for several movies in the Matrix trilogy, and his website features a picture of him working on the control tower of Zion, the human bastion in the films. His model builder resume also includes Terminator 3: Rise of the MachinesStarship Troopers (pictured above), and Galaxy Quest, along with some less revered but no doubt equally labor-intensive works such as Van Helsing and the 2003 version of Peter Pan. His resume also includes work outside model building. As part of the art department, he was the set designer for 2002's Scooby-Doo movie, and he was also the props guy for Bicentennial Man. 

Remember, all that was before most people ever heard of the guy through his MythBusters gig. Talk about work ethic.

He had an explosive childhood

You could say that MythBusters was in the cards for Tory Belleci pretty early on. According to The Good 5 Cent Cigar, Belleci was introduced to fire at a very young age by his father, who taught him how to make a Molotov cocktail. Belleci was still a child when he built a flamethrower that worked so well, he accidentally set a part of the family's house on fire. 

As The Monterey County Herald writes, young Belleci also got into explosives and learned how to make homemade bombs. The final component of good myth-busting — the showmanship element — came when he witnessed his father preparing their house for Halloween. Belleci became so enamored with the creepy decorations that he started making his own. Before long, he had taken over, and the creepy contraptions that he created were so gross and realistic that his dad had to tell him to "cool it." Because of young Tory's propensity for wild special effects setups, it's probably no surprise that Belleci's mother Terrie says of her son's childhood, "Halloween and Fourth of July were my two worst nightmares. He just used to scare me."

Tory Belleci after MythBusters

Despite his demonstrable success as a TV host, Tory Belleci has struggled to replicate the achievements of his most famous show after he left it behind. According to Gazette Review, his first post-MythBusters show was Thrill Factor, where he and Kari Byron took their scientific approach to amusement park rides. Sadly, the show only received a single season in 2015, but still, it did way better than their science-themed prank showPrankenstein, as that one was never even picked up (although Byron is apparently still holding out hope). The Build Team's most recent effort, White Rabbit Project, wasn't much luckier. In 2017, Belleci confirmed on Reddit that Netflix chose against renewing the show for a second season.

One of the weirdest cases in Belleci's cancellation portfolio was Punkin Chunkin, a popular pumpkin destruction-themed Science Channel Thanksgiving special that he hosted for several years. According to CNN, the show was Shark Week-level popular and even topped ratings monsters such as The Apprentice, but thanks to the obvious safety risks that come with a bunch of people building ballistas that can send large pumpkins flying over 4,000 feet, the production was plagued by injuries. A lawsuit by a volunteer who got injured in an ATV accident led to the event being cancelled in both 2014 and 2015. And just as they were gearing up to return in 2016, a producer almost died when an air cannon exploded. 

His adventures in writing and directing

These days, Tory Belleci is most famous as a TV personality, but he's also dabbled on the other side of the camera, and we're not talking about his special effects career. Yes, Belleci has also written and directed, which to be fair, came as a side effect for his film school studies. But nevertheless, it's a big enough point of pride that he's included it in the biography on his website.

To date, Belleci's biggest foray into writing and directing is Sand Trooper, a post-apocalyptic short film he made as his senior thesis. The short — which credits him with his full name, Salvatore Belleci, and features some pretty neat rudimentary special effects — takes place in a post-apocalyptic desert where a lone soldier tries to infiltrate a mysterious facility. We won't spoil anything here, but if you ever find yourself in a Mad Max -inspired wasteland, it's probably best to avoid petting mysterious mice

His connection to the LAX shooting

Usually, the closest MythBusters veers to a tragedy is when a joke misfires or a particularly cool myth everyone's excited about turns out to be a visually unimpressive dud. However, according to Entertainment Weekly, this changed in 2013 when Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara ended up in the middle of Los Angeles' LAX airport when a gunman opened fire inside Terminal 3. Their trip to Science Channel's annual Punkin Chunkin competition in Delaware soon turned into full-on panic, as they ended up in the thick of things. Belleci described the situation as his "worst nightmare," as he was at a gate only a little way from the shooter, and everyone was running his way when the first shot rang out. What's more, there seemed to be nowhere to go. So for what Belleci describes felt like "an eternity" (but admits was probably just a few minutes), they were trapped in the area. Eventually, someone opened the doors and let them out on the tarmac. 

Since Belleci and Imahara were separated at the time — Belleci was in the middle of the madness, while Imahara had been chilling at a nearby Virgin Lounge — they didn't really have time to communicate with each other. However, they still managed to contribute, as their live tweets of the incident were among the first reports to emerge from the scene.

The private life of Tory Belleci

Unlike many other celebrities, Tory Belleci appears to be so intensely private that even the most tenacious gossip sites can't seem to agree on anything conclusive about his relationships and other personal matters. Perhaps because of this lack of solid information, sites like Superb Hub and Hollywood Mask mostly address common rumors concerning him, which include claims that he either dates or used to date fellow host Kari Byron (which is untrue, as they're just good friends) or that he's gay. 

Belleci himself doesn't seem to mind keeping personal matters personal. However, he has been known to indulge in the occasional social media post with an apparent girlfriend. One tweet from 2013 seemed to hint that he was involved with Francesca Garigue, a senior production coordinator for MythBusters. More recently, a woman known as Erin B. has posted some fairly romantic imagery about herself and Belleci on Instagram, with one post even revealing the two might be getting married soon. 

Tory Belleci is surprisingly religious

Religion and MythBusters seem like a strange combination, but as The Monterey County Herald notes, Tory Belleci is quite a devout Christian who's even likened a past humanitarian trip to Haiti to "missionary work." This made him something of an oddity in the MythBusters environment, where assorted combinations of skepticism and atheism ran rampant. According to Skeptical Inquirer, Adam Savage thinks of himself as an atheist, free thinker, humanist, and a skeptic. Jamie Hyneman took things even further in a 2014 Reddit Ask Me Anything, where he plainly stated that he doesn't think too highly of stuff like atheism and agnosticism. Personally, he doesn't "believe in anything," and seems aggravated enough about the idea of deities that he actually swears twice in the same post. Even Belleci's arguably closest coworker, Kari Byron, has said that she's an atheist, though she makes a point of mentioning that she doesn't "begrudge" people with other beliefs.  

Belleci is a humanitarian

Tory Belleci might come across as a pretty great guy in TV, but in his private life, he's been known to take his niceness up to 11. The Monterey County Herald writes that when MythBusters took a brief hiatus in 2010, Belleci decided to spend this no doubt much-needed downtime by taking a trip abroad. Only, instead of taking a luxurious celebrity holiday, he flew to Haiti to do volunteer work. Joining forces with the non-profit LifeGivingForce, Belleci visited orphanages in the country still reeling from the January 12, 2010 earthquake, and he helped local communities gain access to clean, safe water by building water cleaning systems. 

Belleci, who is a Christian, saw this as an opportunity to do missionary work and says that the experience was "overwhelmingly profound." He was extremely impressed with the way the orphanages were aiming to educate the kids and give them an upbringing that would raise them to become key figures in Haiti's future. According to the orphanages, their aim was to "change Haiti" by educating up to 6,000 kids into a "whole generation of leaders," leaders that Belleci was helping provide water for. So yeah, this wasn't exactly your average famous person vacation. But then again, Tory Belleci isn't your average famous person.